Yesterday I met and said goodbye to a baby girl. On first appearance she was fine. Her chest rose and fell as it should. Her skin looked fresh and delicate. Besides the handful of tubes going here and there as well as a monitor on her tiny foot she simply looked like she was sleeping. She looked relaxed laying in her little hospital bed dying from shaken baby syndrome. Before seeing her I learned of her condition. When told she was unresponsive I thought she was in a coma, but she wasn't, she was brain dead. How does a healthy seven week old suddenly become brain dead? One option could be SBS. Her little brain was shaken around in her head causing blood vessels to rip. When you saw her face and puffy eyelids you could tell something was wrong. Her eyelids were red and purple and her head was turning purple from all the blood she had on her brain and behind her eyes. A few hours after I saw her the machines were removed and she passed from this world into the arms of Jesus.
I learned something about myself yesterday. I guess more so I clarified my feelings on SBS. I made it through and more importantly Kaitlyn made it through the hard first few months of her life. You know the months when you get little sleep and eat cold food because the little squawk box wants to eat and poop. There were rough patches when I had to put her safely in her bed and go call Neal while she screamed her head off. If I hadn't walked away when I was losing my patients there's no telling what I would have done. I think when a parent shakes a baby it's not an act of violence, but snapping. I don't believe they do it with the intent to hurt the baby, but make it stop. Don't preach to me, you and I both know it's a terrible thing that could cost a baby it's life or life as it knows it. I think if a child is shaken at the hands of their parents the parents should be required to do school assemblies with a health professional. They should have to share their story. If the child is still alive they should have to take it and show the results of shaking a baby. Now if you had asked me my thoughts on this last week I may have said the person is a violent person and should go to jail for life. Now though... if they don't have a history of violence, they shouldn't be treated like a violent person. They snapped and are already paying the highest price by losing their child. Where I really flip on this train of thought is if the child is shaken by a caregiver. If I can allow her to live through those hard months you better believe I expect a caregiver to not lay a harmful hand on her. If I left her with a sitter and they snapped I would want them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Is this unfair? Maybe so, but at least the caregiver only has the child for a short time each day.
I believe all parents should be educated before leaving the hospital on SBS. Actually while the woman in pregnant both mom and dad should be required to sit through a class that explains SBS and gives suggestions on preventing it. I think with many compulsive things in life we need a plan before the situation comes up. Saying, "Don't shake your baby" isn't enough. New parents need to know it's okay if the baby cries. Crying will not kill them. Tend to their pressing needs - clean diaper, fed, not cold/hot - then put them in a safe place - crib, baby swing, playpen - and walk away. You should call someone, go get a drink of water, countdown from 100, walk outside and take a deep breath, or whatever it takes to cool down. Once you have cooled down you can then go back and tend to your child. A friend of mine used to call me when she had reached her limit. We lived close enough that I could run to her house and watch her screaming child while she took a breather. My point is, have a plan so when you feel yourself losing your cool you won't be implosive.
Now on to a touchier subject... Do you know someone who has shaken a baby? Before you stoop to spitting, swearing, or simply thinking bad about them I want you to think of one thing... it could have been you. No don't go and get all high and mighty on me. Yes, of course you are above sin. Oh, wait, only Jesus was free of sin. Let's be honest, you either had a REALLY good baby who never provoked you to wrath, you are an EXTREMELY laid back person that couldn't be phased by sleepless nights and a screaming child, a second person was most always around, or you had a plan. A parent who snaps and shakes their baby now needs your compassion more then anything. Yes, it was terrible and the life of their child has been forever changed, but they don't need others beating them over the head even with little words. They have more regret then you could ever heap on them. Don't add to it. Show them the love of Christ and help them get through this really rough time created by their own hands. Don't worry about condemning them, they will do that to themselves for the rest of their lives.
Once you watch the long video below go call a parent with a new baby and ask how they are doing. Offer to be a listening ear if they feel they are reaching their limit. Tell them you will come over on a moments notice to watch the baby for a few minutes so mom or dad can take a breather. You might just save the life of the baby if you are willing to do this.